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The Historical Background of African Americans


The paper presents the historical background of African American population. It states the historical events which brought African people to America. The paper includes the analysis of diversity within the concepts of culture, class, and religion. The issue of discrimination due to these concepts is also regarded. The evolution of African American attempts to establish national identity is traced together with the self-identification phases. Then research also presents the influence that African-American stereotypes have in the aspects of law enforcement and cross-racial perceptions.

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African Americans constitute the biggest minority group in the United States after the white population. The history of African Americans is comparatively not long but painful. It is full of mystery and historical transformations which led those people from the position of slaves to the leading posts of the United States. This national minority has been observing the problems of diversity within the aspects of culture, class, and religion.

They were exposed to discrimination in various spheres of life. It both restrained and stimulated the evolution of African American identity. The stereotypes that were formed during the centuries of Africans’ presence in America have influenced the law enforcement and cross-cultural perceptions. Thus, the paper reviews the milestones of African American history, their causes and consequences, which led the race to the current position.

African Americans: Historical Background

With the development of colonies in the North America, the needs for labor force was increasing. The local population could not satisfy such demand. The source of not expensive available labor force was found in Africa. Thus, at the beginning of the 17th century, first Africans were brought as slaves to Jamestown, a British colony (Asante, 2013). At first, they were treated like indentured servants (Alexander & Rucker, 2010).

It meant that they could continue working after their contract expired or begin the farm of their own. However, this approach was not efficient and could not satisfy the need for workers. Thus, the transportation of African slaves intensified. Although historians argue about the number of people brought to America and the accurate figures are not available, the quantity of Africans imported just during the 18th century is believed to be about seven million people (Alexander & Rucker, 2010).

Then American Revolution brought some changes to the position of African people in America. Some steps were taken to reduce the slavery. As of 1808, Congress banned the import of slaves. Besides, some northern states had already put an end to slavery at the end of the eighteenth century (Asante, 2013). Nevertheless, the population of slaves was still increasing, mainly in the southern states where cotton was produced. The anti-slavery movement continued through the early 1830-s. However, the slavery was finally abolished only by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, and all black people were set free by 1970 (Alexander & Rucker, 2010).

Although slavery ended, the struggle for rights began. Despite the 15th Amendment of 1870 which gave the right to vote to black citizens as well, some whites sought the ways to deprive African Americans of any rights (Asante, 2013). Various societies whose aim was to threaten the blacks appeared. The most famous of them was Ku Klux Klan.

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The movement for the civil rights of African Americans led to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (Asante, 2013). It focused on the enforcement of Amendments that touched the black population, and equal right to education (Alexander & Rucker, 2010). On the long way to equality, African Americans faced discrimination, the search of identity, and the life under the pressure of stereotypes.

Class, Culture, and Religion in African American Communities

The discrepancy in culture, religion, and status of white and black citizens was evident. However, the diversity in those aspects was also observed within the African American communities themselves. Religion is crucial for African American culture (Bailer, 2014). Before they were taken to America, Africans had their unique religious traditions which often included worshipping gods through singing and dancing. However, in America most of Africans gradually adopted Christianity. They brought in their authentic music traditions which resulted in peculiar religious songs known as spirituals (Bailer, 2014). Later the spirituals were replaced with gospel hymns. As of 2007, more than a half of African Americans identify themselves as the members of historically African-American Protestant churches, about 20 percent belong to Evangelical Protestant churches, and less than 10 percent are Catholic (Bailer, 2014).

The culture of African American population is greatly influenced by the authentic African folk traditions. Its boost took place in late 1910-s and is known as Harlem Renaissance (Bailer, 2014). It is characterized with the longing of African American artists and writers overcome the stereotypes they were observing for centuries. It brought to the surface the names of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston whose works represented the wealth of African heritage (Bailer, 2014). The music tradition was not limited to religious hymns. Blues music which developed from the folk songs and jazz which grew in the late 1800-s are considered traditionally African American (Alexander & Rucker, 2010).

Class disparities of African Americans are rooted in the slavery traditions. At present, it is revealed in the income inequality, conditioning the existence of “two nations within Black America” (Gates, 2016, par.9). It also includes the issue of education and the further possibilities that it may give.

Evolution of African American Identity

Sone researches link the problem of African American Identity formation with the theory of ethnic randomization (Alexander & Rucker, 2010). Due to the ethnical mix of the enslaved Africans, they had to develop new identities in the new environment. Thus, the surrounding people and new conditions had greater influence on the identity formation than the African experience (Alexander & Rucker, 2010).

It may explain the feeling of being wrong experienced by most blacks. However, the desire to have some definite signs of national identity reduced the White influence. It resulted in respectful relationships with other races and the formation of the sense of Blackness which led to positive national identity (Alexander & Rucker, 2010).

African American Stereotypes: Law Enforcement and Cross-Racial Perceptions

Racial stereotypes have been observed by African Americans since their arrival to America. Even after acquiring equal civil rights, African Americans faced another problem. One of the popular stereotypes is that Blacks are considered potentially more dangerous criminals than the representatives of other races. The image of a Black criminal is a popular component of American culture. This discrimination caused numerous cases of mistreatment of African Americans from the legal officers. On the whole, other stereotypes connected with African Americans include the image of drug dealers, strong black athletes, furious black women, and often unintelligent people.

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Summarizing the pace of African people in America, it can be concluded that their way to equality and recognition was not fast and easy. They started as slaves, gained freedom, and gradually acquired the equal civil rights. Despite many stereotypes, they brought in the authentic cultural traditions and became an integral part of American society.


Alexander, L.M., & Rucker, W.C. (Eds.). (2010). Encyclopedia of African American history. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Asante, M.K. (2013). The African American people: A global History. New York, NY: Routledge.

Bailer, D. (2014). African-American Culture. North Mankato, MN: ABDO Publishing Company.

Gates, H.L. (2016, February 1). Black America and the class divide. The New York Times. 

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